Reader alert: If you're a fan of Op Art, you're going to hate this.

Did the chief art critic for The Guardian disguise a slap in the face to the queen of England's art world as praise? How else to take Adrian Searle's review of Bridget Riley's paintings at London's Hayward Gallery when he says "they're great to look at" but then adds, "they are also deadly serious."

Hard on the eyes

Alas, I can't take Riley's work seriously.

What she's been doing since the '60s is paint kaleidoscope-like patterns of colors and shapes to create optical illusions of movement. The effort is called Op Art and I question the "art" part of that term. (More about that in a moment). When Riley showed her pattern painting at Tate Britain in 2003, she said the eyes of viewers "should feel caressed and soothed." That doesn't sound like what Searle's eye felt when he said her work "makes you feel like you're fainting, your eyes ping-ponging all over the place."

Driven to drink

Art critic Harry Mount, writing for the Daily Mail, was so ping-ponged that in his review of the show he warned viewers not to drink alcohol before visiting Riley's exhibit, saying that her "swirling curves produce such powerful optical illusions that I thought I'd knocked back several stiff gins when I saw them.

If I'd had a drink beforehand, I might well have fallen over."

Is this art?

Is that an art experience or simply some dizzying effect from twisting, turning colors and shapes found in a Kaleidoscope or some overdesigned shower curtain... I fault Impressionism for a similar reason - the optical effect that painters like Monet sought by placing colors like blue and yellow together so that the viewer's eye mixes them to form a shade of green. It's art for the eye alone. The mind and heart don't enter into it.

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Comparing apples and bananas

In praising Riley, Searle compares her to the other omnipresence in the UK's art world, sculptor Henry Moore saying that she deserves her fame more than he does. Why? To Moore's credit, he didn't subscribe to any art movement the way Riley does. What's more, his sculpture - semi-abstract stoneworks of the human form - rise from their pedestals like boulders that suggest landscapes.

Searle also contends that unlike Riley, Moore "invented very little" completely overlooking the hollows he put in his sculptures that, like those in tree trunks or eddying water, lend life to the inanimate material. In contrast, Riley's work comes without any sign of life, not even a brush mark. In fact, it looks machine-made.

As it turns out, Riley hasn't touched the paintings you see for a very long time.

She hires others to do them. So, not only isn't there any sign of brushwork, there's no sign of her in her work, either. Again, it's hard to take her stuff seriously.

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